For a DJ who has commanded so much respect for so long, John Digweed’s a pretty nondescript guy, the kind of beat craftsman you can imagine gets obsessed by a certain small sound—the squeaking of a rusty gate, for example—about how it bursts and fades, what its lifecycle is, how it communicates. These unobtrusive sounds are essential to any Digweed mix or set, and are what gets him labeled a progressive house DJ. On Transitions, the one-disc mix CD named after his weekly radio show, the veteran DJ sticks to this familiar palette, creating an efficient, if not spectacular, mix interested more in the creation and sustenance of mood than in massive riffs or catchy vocal lines.
All this is fine, of course, since for a while now Digweed has been in the business of pushing past the house/trance explosion of the late ‘90s that he was such a big part of. Seemingly galvanized by the 10th anniversary reissue of his seminal Renaissance mix with Sasha, Digweed has experimented with more progressive elements on a Fabric compilation and an online album with AOL; and with Transitions the evolution continues.
The mix begins with a minimal aesthetic, and builds and builds. As if purposely throwing off the mini-tech business that’s now no longer cutting edge, Digweed knowingly adds both highs and lows throughout the disc’s introduction, as if to say, “there’s more to this genre than one texture at a time.” On the opening track, “Cruising” by Partial Arts, the sonic texture is full of space, with bits blipping out for two and a half minutes until the pace gradually picks up with a complex, bass synth line introduced low in the mix. The beat coalesces into a straight 4/4; and as the song fades out, a pulsing vocal loop introduces the Baroque flourish of electronics of Every’s “Feelin’”—and we’ve begun.
If anything, there may be too much extraneous material in these first songs (even throughout the disc’s first half), detracting just a touch from the efficiency of the mix’s momentum – this is noticeable from “Feelin’”‘s trilling croak, like the sound the velociraptor makes in Jurassic Park, to the car-rev echoes in “Flake Escape” by Dringer. There are touches of electro (as with the twirl on “Feelin”, the dirty whistles of “Gebrun Gebrun”), too, but they exist as a subtle twist on the basic house sound, rather than as an overt excursion into the electro genre.
John Digweed’s trance lineage hasn’t completely faded, though it pops up here more as pieces of trance built into the architecture of these songs. Take Popnonname’s “On The Run”, with its swirling vocals in the background that faintly recall “Saltwater” by Chicane, for example. Or the space-filled treble hits of “Roots 4 Acid’ by Rocco. Still, Transitions is no straight trance mix; John Digweed is too proficient and forward-thinking a DJ to still be feeding us that obvious fare.
As the disc progresses, the temperature rises nicely, heating up with Knights of Columbus’ “On Spec”, and culminating in Digweed’s own “Warung Beach” (here in the Lutzenkirchen remix): if any track is going to become a big summer club hit, this should be the one. With precisely the crunchy synth beat in vogue right now, and a cruel electro trill, it’s as if all the elements of the set so far have coalesced into this one pounding (but not too overt) anthem.
In the end, what we say about the individual tracks of a mix like Transitions never means as much as the experience of listening to the disc all the way through. Individual thematic or melodic elements are secondary; they are always in the service of the groove. It’s because John Digweed constantly remembers this that he continues to make relevant, interesting dance music, and why he’s likely to remain a top-ranked DJ for the foreseeable future.